Why I don't eat watermelon.
In February 1977 MGG (my Greek God ) and I drove my car from England to Greece.
Once it arrived here MGG more or less claimed it as his own and managed to wreck the engine, totally seized it up, it wouldn't go forwards, it wouldn't go backwards.
We made the rounds of all the local garages, no one had an idea how to fix it.We towed it to British Leyland in Athens, they threw their hands in the air.
That's it then, it has to be some how transported back to England.We enquired about doing it by train...way too expensive.
As luck would have it ( bad luck as it turned out ) MGG's brother-in-law, a lorry driver, was making a trip to England, we would put the car in the lorry and go with him.
And here begins the seven day journey from hell!
|Journey from hell|
The lorry was going to Camberwell, London. The load it was carrying is watermelons.
I pack up my suitcase, put it into the car and set off to where the lorry is waiting to load.
While they are doing this, I go into Korinth for some last minute shopping, when I return, they have finished the loading.
The car had been placed in the middle, the cardboard cartons of watermelons stacked up all around it, front, back and sides, all the way up to the top, the car was not visible.
My suitcase is still in the car!
There is no way that they are unloading so I set off in what I am stood up in, a pair of jeans and a white T-shirt.
The three of us climb into the cabin which is to be home for the next seven days, the lorry was an old, very old Volvo.Everything was very basic...and old!
|Old Volvo lorry|
And we're off, the route is to be Korinth, Athens, Evzone, through what was then Yugoslavia, Austria, Germany, France, Across from Calais to Dover and home.
The journey was to take three to four days...at the most, it took seven.
Problems began at Evzone, the border going into Yugoslavia (as was).
Unbeknown to me all papers to do with the lorry, visas, etc, even the driver's licence for goodness' are forged! He's Greek, I'm dealing with Greeks, you've 'just gotta love em', I shouldn't have been surprised!
It is June at this time, I have only been in Greece since February so my Greek is not that good but I do realise we have a problem.
The driver goes around to the back of the lorry, takes something out and disappears, for about three hours.
He comes back all smiles, jumps in and we're off again.
He has an enormous stash of Greek cigarettes and ouzo in the back...this he uses to bribe customs and border control!
|The greasing of palms|
The roads in then Yugoslavia left a lot to be desired, think goat track.
Every where that we stopped we were inundated with beggars, children who looked as young as five or six asking for cigarettes, already smoking away as they asked.
Because of the state of the road and the lorry, the going was very slow.
Our first overnight stay is in Skopje.
We have a wander around, something to eat, a drink and then it's bed.
Bed is the cabin,it has two bunk beds, Yiannis the driver goes on the top, MGG and I share the bottom one.
It was hell. sheer hell.
It was June, it was hot, it was smelly...they had taken their shoes off.
|Lorry's sleeping quarters|
I make it through the night, how I don't know.
We are now heading for Zagreb, the next night's stopover.
Now the driver has a program, we only buy stuff to eat in the evenings when we have stopped for the night.
None of us have much money.
His wife has provided meatballs, olives, feta and hard boiled eggs, all packed up in plastic containers.
This is lunch.
|Greek picnic lunch|
Another night of hell is passed in the lorry, in the morning we push on towards Austria and yes...more borders, remember this is 1977, the European union was not as it is now.
We go through the same carry on with the papers again, out come the cigarettes and ouzo, another three hour palaver.
This same thing happened at every border that we crossed.
By now I look like a tramp and stink to high heaven, Yiannis assures me that in Germany I can have a shower, luxury!
I have stopped eating the meatballs, by the way, I don't eat olives or feta cheese, so meatballs is all I was eating.
It was June, it was hot, I did not want food poisoning to make this hell more hellish!
So Yiannis is making frequent trips to the back of the lorry to bring me watermelon.
Now I am living on watermelon alone.
At the next overnight stop I can just not bear to go in the bunk anymore, I am beginning to become claustrophobic.
I sleep across the front seats, well, tried to sleep.
We reach Germany, more borders but never mind, I am dreaming of showers...I had the shower about twelve hours later.
We are in Germany now, not so easy with the cigarettes and ouzo, they want to open the lorry, they want to see the car.
We are directed into the custom sheds.
Out come the cartons of watermelons.
|Cartons of water melons|
And out comes a grey car!
My car was green when it went in!
They had not secured the load correctly in Korinth. Through the whole journey the cardboard boxes had rubbed off all the paint, it is down to the grey undercoat.
The bumpers, mirrors, anything that can come lose has come loose.
It went in the lorry green, it came out grey.
Not only was the engine done in, the outside was as well now.
The car was only five months old, bought from brand new.
After lots more argy bargy with the papers, the lorry is loaded up again and Yiannis takes me for my promised shower.
This is at a truck stop, a communal shower room ...for men!
We had to pay the lady in charge to not let any men in while I am in there.
It was the quickest shower I have ever had I can tell you.
Clean at last but I had to put on my dirty clothes, with all the upheaval and the shock of seeing the state of my car, I forgot to retrieve my suitcase.
We are now in France...nearing home, but not before a near disaster, because of my lack of Greek, I had not understood that somewhere around the city of Lyon, going downhill, the brakes had failed.
I thought the two of them were a bit excited about something, maybe they were arguing.
We were saved from near death but now had to fix the brakes.
More hours of delay.
We must have looked something like this!
Calais...we reach Calais, things are looking good.
The last of the "greasing of the palm" stash is handed over and we are allowed to board.
We have to board in reverse, Yiannis has not boarded like this before, he can't do it, after numerous attempts, a line behind us a mile long of screaming, angry lorry drivers, he does it...we're on...I'm nearly home!
In celebration I have the full English breakfast, it is a rough crossing, I promptly throw it all back up.
|Full english breakfast|
I look out of the widow and there they are, the white cliffs of Dover.
I now know why people become so emotional at the sight of them.
|The white cliffs of Dover|
We dock, we head for London, it is now late Saturday night, the place in Camberwell where we are to unload is closed, the next day is Sunday, closed.
There is no way on earth I am spending another night in that lorry, after circling London, getting stuck in narrow back streets looking for the place, Yiannis parks up, I leave them both, find a taxi and make for Kings cross and a train to Leeds...home.
I arrive in Leeds, take a taxi and ...home, sweet , home.
After telling my sister all about this hell, she suddenly said
"Something smells like pigs"
....Yes...Me and I sat four hours on a train smelling like this!
And what about the poor taxi driver...in close quarters with me!
This whole story is a case of the journey not being better than the destination, there was not one single good moment, the only good thing that came out of this is that we can all have a good laugh about it now.
After reliving this hell I feel I need to have a stiff drink!
I swear to this day I have never again eaten watermelon.
By the way, on the trip back to Greece, the lorry broke down in Manchester.
Yiannis had had enough, he ditched it and hitched a lift with another lorry on it's way to Greece.
The owner of the lorry he ditched was none too pleased.